Ethnicity and Crime: Paul Gilroy’s ‘Anti-Racist Theory’

Below I summarise pp52-3 of Collins’ Sociology AQA A-Level Year 2 Student Book (Chapman, Holborn, Moore and Aiken.) This is their take on what they call ‘Paul Gilroy’s Anti Racist Theory of Crime’ – Interestingly Prof. Gilroy commented on the post saying this is a shallow, oversimplified travesty of what he wrote.

Gilroy’s Anti-Racist Theory of Crime 

Gilroy describes a ‘myth of black criminality’ and attributed statistical differences in recorded criminality between ethnic groups as being due to police stereotyping and racist labelling .

Gilroy also argued that crime amongst Black British ethnic groups was a legacy of the struggle against White dominance in former colonies such as Jamaica. When early migrants came to Britain they faced discrimination and hostility, and drew upon the tradition of anticolonial struggle to develop cultures of resistance against White-dominated authorities and police forces.

While Left Realists such as Lea and Young argued that ome criminal acts such as rioting could involve protest against marginalisation, but Paul Gilroy goes much further, seeing most crime by Black ethnic groups as essentially political and as part of the general resistance to White Rule.

Evaluations of Gilroy’s Anti-Racism Theory

This theory is criticised by Lea and Young (1984) on several grounds:

– First generation immigrants were actually very law-abiding citizens and as such did not resist against the colony of Britain and were less likely to pass this anti-colonial stance to their kids.
– Most crime is against other people of the same ethnic group and so cannot be seen as resistance to racism.
– Like critical criminologists, Lea and Young criticise Gilroy for romanticising the criminals as somehow revolutionary.
– Asian crimes rates are similar or lower than whites, which would mean the police were only racist towards blacks, which is unlikely.
– Most crime is reported to police not uncovered by them so it is difficult to suggest racism within the police itself.

Related Posts 

Gilroy draws on the labelling theory crime, among others.

Ethnicity and Crime: The Role of Cultural Factors

Some Sociologists have suggested that cultural differences, especially differences in family life, may be responsible for underlying differences in offending between ethnic groups.

Single Parent Families are more common among African-Caribbean Families, which may be related to higher rates of crime

In 2007 Almost half the black children in Britain were being raised by single parents. Forty-eight per cent of black Caribbean families had one parent, as did 36 per cent of black African households.

Rates of teenage motherhood are also significantly higher among young black women and despite constituting only 3 per cent of the population aged 15 – 17, they accounted for 9 per cent of all abortions given to women under the age of 18.

The higher rates of single parenthood in Black-Caribbean families may lead to boys from this group being more likely to offend because of the lack of a male role-model to provide guidance and keep them in check.

However, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that British Caribbean single parents are far from isolated, and not even really ‘single’ at all. Research by Geoffrey Driver in the 1980s revealed that Caribbean single mothers are often well-connected to other people in their communities, so not necessarily isolated. Networks existed within neighbours to provide informal help with childcare and school runs. Other research has also found that family connections to brothers and sisters (uncles and aunts) are strong in British Caribbean communities, while Tracey Reynolds (2002) points out that many single Caribbean mothers are in a long term relationship with a man who doesn’t live with them, but visits every day and plays an active role in childcare.

In contrast, Asian families tend to be more stable, which might explain the lower rates of offending within Asian communities.  Marriage is still seen as a key milestone in Brit-Asian life. A UK National Statistics report says the highest proportions of married couples under pension age, with or without children, are in Asian households. Over half of Bangladeshi (54%), Indian (53%) and Pakistani (51%) households contained a married couple, compared with 37% of those headed by a White British person.

However,  there is a dark-side to Asian family life, and that comes in the number of Forced Marriages associated with Asian communities. One report from 2008 suggests that there are up to 3000 third and fourth generation  Asian women who are subjected to forced marriages in the UK. This crime will of course be practically invisible in the official statistics.

The culture of anti-school black masculinity may also be related to higher rates of black criminality

Tony Sewell (1997) observed that Black Caribbean boys may experience considerable pressure by their peers to adopt the norms of an ‘urban’ or ‘street’ subculture. More importance is given to unruly behaviour with teachers and antagonistic behaviour with other students than to high achievement or effort to succeed, particularly at secondary school.

Sewell (2003) argued that “black boys today have real opportunities but they are failing to grasp them. I talk to middle class, black parents who tell me they literally have to fight to keep their boys on task. These are boys from well-resourced homes, they go to the better state schools and yet they are performing below their potential. A black male today faces anti-school peer pressure that dominates our schools. Ask your son about it if you need some enlightenment. A head teacher told me how one student was jumped outside of his school: he was beaten and his attackers took his mobile phone, his trainers, his jacket and his cap. In our inner cities, black male youth culture has moved from a community of safety and brotherhood to one of fear of each other.”

Evaluating the Role of Cultural Factors

There are limitations with cultural explanations of differences in offending

Firstly, these theories might be accused of explaining crimes by drawing on crude stereotypes – there are significant cultural variations within Black and Asian ethnic groups, and official statics only collect very basic stats on ethnicity (literally just recording whether people are Black or Asian) thus there is no real way to evaluate the above theories.

Secondly, it is difficult to separate out cultural from material factors such as unemployment and poverty, which are emphasised by Left Realists.

Thirdly, these theories don’t take into account the fact that underlying differences in crime rates may be a response to blocked opportunities which are in turn caused by structural racism in wider society.

Fourthly, these theories do not consider the fact that that the statistics might be a social construction and exaggerate the true extent of Black and Asian criminality. Critical criminologists, for example, argue that the over-representation of minority groups in the criminal justice system is because they are more likely to be criminalised by agents of social control.

 

Official Statistics on Ethnicity and Crime

A summary of how ethnic minorities are over-represented at different stages of the criminal ‘justice’ process in England and Wales

Official government statistics suggest that both black and asian people are more likely to be stopped by the police and go to jail than white people in England today.

The Home Office records statistics on the ethnic backgrounds of people as they ‘progress’ through the criminal justice system, such as:

  1. Stop and search
  2. Arrest statistics
  3. Prosecutions
  4. Convictions
  5. Custodial remands
  6. Custodial Sentences
  7. Prison Population

The main publication documenting this data is ‘Statistics on Race and the Criminal Justice System‘, the latest publication date being November 2018 (next release November 2021).

The latest report notes that ethnic minorities, especially black people are over-represented at many stages of the criminal justice process – but especially in the stop and search practice.

The figures below show the percentages of different ethnic groups represented through stop and search to the prison population:

NB the percentages above do not show us the percentages proportionate to the numbers of White, Black and Asian in the population so on their own they are misleading. 22% of the population isn’t Black, for example, so black people are hugely over-represented in the stop and search statistics (something the England and Wales Police Force is well aware of as something of a ‘problem’!)

Official Statistics on Ethnicity and Crime: The Main Differences…

Proportionate to the overall numbers in the adult population as a whole…

  • Black people are approximately SIX times more likely to be stopped and searched and SIX times more likely to be sent to jail;
  • Asian people are THREE times more likely to be stopped and searched than White people, but have a similar chance of being sent to jail.

The rest of this post provides a little more detail on how the stats vary at different stages of the criminalisation process. 

Stop and Search Statistics by Ethnicity

Stop and search has long been an issue of concern by Human Rights campaigners in England and Wales

According to this BBC summary (2013) The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said in some areas black people were 29 times more likely to be stopped and searched. The commission said the disproportion between different ethnic groups remained “stubbornly high”.

The highest “disproportionality” ratios were found in the following places:

  • In Dorset black people were 11.7 times more likely than white people to be stopped
  • In West Mercia, Asian people were 3.4 times more likely than white people to be stopped
  • In Warwickshire, people of mixed race were 4.4 times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched.

The report also looked at the use of Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act under which police can stop and search someone for weapons, without suspicion that the individual is involved in wrongdoing, providing that a senior officer has a reasonable belief that violence had or is about to occur.

stop and search.jpg

Under section 60, In the West Midlands, black people were 29 times more likely than white people to be targeted and Asian people were six times more likely than white people to be targeted, which is what the above spoof advert mush be drawing on.

EHRC chief executive Mark Hammond said “the overall disproportionality in the use of the powers against black, Asian and mixed race people remains stubbornly high.”

And the latest figures figures (from the 2018 report above) note that things have got worse:

“The proportion of stop and searches conducted on White suspects decreased from 75% in 2014/15 to 59% in 2018/19 and increased for all minority ethnic groups.

The largest increases were from 13% to 22% for Black suspects and from 8% to 13% for Asian suspects.”

As the table below shows the overall number of people being stopped and searched by the police has declined in the last five years, but the proportions of Black and Asian people stopped and searched compared to whites has increased.

It seems that when the police are asked to use Stop and Search more selectively, they select to stop and search less white people and more ethnic minorities.

Arrest Rates following Stop and Search

The rates are converging, which I guess suggests the police are ‘getting it right’ in equal amounts across ethnic groups:

Arrest Statistics by Ethnicity

The total number of arrests have gone down over the last five years, in line with the declining crime rates. The arrest statistics have remained stable over time, with 77% of arrests being made of white people, 10% black and 7% Asian in 2018.

One stand-out trend for reasons for arrest is that Black people are less likely to be arrested for ‘violence against the person’ and more likely to be arrested for drugs than other ethnic groups – drugs is also the main reason for stop and search, so the two could be correlated.

Penalty Notices and Ethnicity

The main reason white people get given a penalty notice is for being ‘drunk and disorderly’, while for Black and Asian people the main reason is ‘cannabis possession’.

It’s interesting to note here that white people are getting notices for actually being offensive, while for black and asian people it’s merely possessing a drug the system has chosen to make illegal. There’s a significant link to interactionism here!

Prosecution and trial statistics 

The Crown Prosecution service (CPS) is responsible for deciding whether a crime or arrest should be prosecuted in court. They base it on whether there is any real chance of the prosecution succeeding and whether it is better for the public that they are prosecuted.

Ethnic minority cases are more likely to be dropped than whites, and blacks and Asians are less likely to be found guilty than whites. Bowling and Phillips (2002) argue that this is because there is never enough evidence to prosecute as it is mainly based on racist stereotyping. In 2006/7 60% of whites were found guilty, against only 52% of blacks, and 44% of Asians.

When cases go ahead members of ethnic minorities are more likely to elect for Crown Court trail rather than magistrates (even through Crown Courts can hand out more severe punishments), potentially because of a mistrust of magistrates.

Convictions

The conviction ratios are very similar for all ethnic groups, suggesting little racial bias at this stage of the criminal justice system:

Black people receive by far the longest sentences, but this seems related to much higher rates of repeat offending, while a much higher proportion of white people being prosecuted are first time offenders….

The 2018 report produced the impressive flow chart below, make of it what you will!

Personally my takeaway is that there seems to be broad equality in the way different ethnicities are treated, and a lot more repeat offending by Black offenders, hence their longer prison sentences.

Prosecutions and Convictions by Type of Offence and Ethnicity

To summarise to the extreme, White people mainly get convicted for theft, Black and Asian people for Drugs.

It’s also worth noting that Black people have significantly lower rates for violent crime than White or Asian people.

Prison Population by Ethnicity

The younger the age group, the fewer white people there are in jail:

And for the under 25s, the number of ethnic minorities in jail has increased proportionate to White people over the last five years:

More than half of children in jail are ethnic minorities

The latest report also has stats on children moving through the criminal justice system.

The figures are even more skewed against ethnic minorities compared to the adult statistics.

It’s more than a little disturbing to note that 51% of children in prison are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Victim surveys

The British Crime Survey indicated that 44 per cent of victims were able to say something about the offender who was involved in offences against them. Among these, 85 per cent of offenders were said by victims to be ‘white’, 5 per cent ‘black’, 3 per cent ‘Asian’ and 4 per cent ‘mixed’. However, these stats are only for the minority of ‘contact’ offences and very few people have any idea who was involved in the most common offences such as vehicle crime and burglary. Therefore, in the vast majority of offences no reliable information is available from victims about the ethnicity of the criminal.

Self-report studies

Though not ‘official statistics’ because they’re not done by the government routinely, it’s interesting to contrast the above stats to this alternative way of measuring crime. Self-report studies ask people to disclose details of crimes they committed but not necessarily been caught doing or convicted of. Graham and Bowling (1995) Found that blacks (43%) and whites (44%) had similar and almost identical rates of crime, but Asians actually had lower rates (Indians- 30%, Pakistanis-28% and Bangladeshi-13%).

Sharp and Budd (2005) noted that the 2003 offending, crime and justice survey of 12,000 people found that whites and mixed ethnicity were more likely to say they had committed a crime, followed by blacks (28%) and Asians (21%).

Related Posts

You might also like these two further posts on official statistics, ethnicity and crime….

Posts which explain the differences in crime statistics by ethnicity:

What is Racism?

The concept of Racism is central to understanding differentiation and inequality in society, and it is a fundamental key concept in sociology.  It is especially relevant to explaining differences in imprisonment rates and educational achievement, and (if you’re learning the correct second year option at A level), the issue of why some countries are less developed than others.

The problem with Racism (in addition to the actual problem of racism) is that it’s very difficult to define – because there’s a lot to it. Below are are a few thoughts on how Racism may be defined in different ways.

(All of the definitions below are taken from one source, which is US based, source below, so don’t forget to be critical of the ideas here!)

Racism: Race, Prejudice, and Power

Racism = Race Prejudice + Power 

Race

A specious classification of human beings created by Europeans (whites) which assigns human worth and social status using ‘white’ as the model of humanity and the height of human achievement for the purpose of establishing and maintaining privilege and power. The idea of Race, is based on the ideas of white supremacy and white privilege.

Prejudice

A prejudice is a pre-judgment in favor of or against a person, a group, an event, an idea, or a thing. An action based on prejudgment is discrimination. A negative prejudgment is often called a stereotype. An action based on a stereotype is called bigotry.

Power

Power” is a relational term. It can only be understood as a relationship between human beings in a specific historical, economic and social setting. It must be exercised to be visible.

1. Power is control of, or access to, those institutions sanctioned by the state.

2. Power is the ability to define reality and to convince other people that it is their definition.

3. Power is ownership and control of the major resources of a state; and the capacity to make and enforce decisions based on this ownership and control;

4. Power is the capacity of a group of people to decide what they want and to act in an organized way to get it.

5. (In terms of an individual), power is the capacity to act.

Structural Racism, Institutional Racism and Individual Racism

These are best seen as different levels of Racism – structural racism being TOTAL historical and systemic racism, institutional, is the next level down, at the level of institutions such as the police, and individual is obviously just at the level of the individual 

Structural Racism

Structural Racism in the U.S. is the normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal – that routinely advantage whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color.

It is a system of hierarchy and inequity, primarily characterized by white supremacy – the preferential treatment, privilege and power for white people at the expense of Black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Arab and other racially oppressed people.

Structural Racism Structural Racism lies underneath, all around and across society. It encompasses:

(1) history, which lies underneath the surface, providing the foundation for white supremacy in this country.

(2) culture, which exists all around our everyday lives, providing the normalization and replication of racism and,

3) interconnected institutions and policies, they key relationships and rules across society providing the legitimacy and reinforcements to maintain and perpetuate racism.

Structural Racism is the most profound and pervasive form of racism – all other forms of racism (e.g. institutional, interpersonal, internalized, etc.) emerge from structural racism.

Indicators/Manifestations:

The key indicators of structural racism are inequalities in power, access, opportunities, treatment, and policy impacts and outcomes, whether they are intentional or not.

Structural racism is more difficult to locate in a particular institution because it involves the reinforcing effects of multiple institutions and cultural norms, past and present, continually producing new, and re-producing old forms of racism.

Institutional Racism

Institutional racism is discriminatory treatment, unfair policies and inequitable opportunities and impacts, based on race, produced and perpetuated by institutions (schools, mass media, etc.). Individuals within institutions take on the power of the institution when they act in ways that advantage and disadvantage people, based on race.

Individual Racism

These are private manifestations of racism that reside inside the individual.

Examples include prejudice, xenophobia, internalized oppression and privilege, and beliefs about race influenced by the dominant culture.

White Supremacy, Whiteness and White Privilege

An aspect of Racism which often goes unconsidered is the idea of ‘whiteness’ as being the baseline from which everything else is judged. As with everything else in sociology, this idea started somewhere in history and is a social construction.

White

The term white, referring to people, was created by Virginia slave owners and colonial rulers in the 17th century. It replaced terms like Christian and “Englishman” (sic) to distinguish European colonists from Africans and indigenous peoples. European colonial powers established white as a legal concept after Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 during which indentured servants of European and African descent had united against the colonial elite. The legal distinction of white separated the servant class on the basis of skin color and continental origin. “The creation of ‘white’ meant giving privileges to some, while denying them to others with the justification of biological and social inferiority.

White Privilege

A privilege is a right, favor, advantage, immunity, specially granted to one individual or group, and withheld from another. White privilege is an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of:

(1) Preferential prejudice for and treatment of white people based solely on their skin color and/or ancestral origin from Europe; and

(2) Exemption from racial and/or national oppression based on skin color and/or ancestral origin from Africa, Asia, the Americas and the Arab world.

White Supremacy

White supremacy is an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent; for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege.

In a white supremacy system, white privilege and racial oppression are two sides of the same coin. “White peoples were exempt from slavery, land grab and genocide, the first forms of white privilege (in the future US).”

Source

Chronic Disparity: Strong and Pervasive Evidence of Racial Inequalities POVERTY OUTCOMES Structural Racism By Keith Lawrence, Aspen Institute on Community Change and Terry Keleher, Applied Research Center at UC Berkeley For the Race and Public Policy Conference 2004

http://www.intergroupresources.com/rc/Definitions%20of%20Racism.pdf